Rodgers under pressure to avoid broken Hearts
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has been told the pressure is all on his side as they attempt to secure their place in the group phase of the Europa League.
The Reds will defend a single-goal advantage against Scottish side Hearts in Thursday’s play-off second leg at Anfield after an own goal from Andy Webster proved the difference in the first leg at Tynecastle.
Liverpool’s edgy victory in Edinburgh was a rare high point so far after an opening day Premier League defeat at West Bromwich Albion and a 2-2 draw against Manchester City.
While the Europa League is relatively low down Liverpool’s list of priorities, reaching the group stages would buy new boss Rodgers a little more breathing space as he tries to stamp his authority on the club.
Yet Rodgers is again set to gamble by giving his squad players a chance to impress in the second leg after resting several stars including captain Steven Gerrard for the Tynecastle clash.
And Liverpool have been warned that their opponents, unbeaten in domestic Scottish competition this season, will do everything in their power to take advantage by springing a surprise.
Goalkeeper Jamie Macdonald believes John McGlynn’s side could upset the odds at Anfield and he said: “Liverpool will want to put a performance on for their fans but we’ll go there without fear. It’s an opportunity for us to do something special.
“Anfield is such an historic place with so many great moments in European football having happened there. Hopefully we can do something great to add to them.
“The pressure’s not on us. They’re the favourites, but on the night, anything can happen. There’s a belief in the camp.”
Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling, the England Under-19 international who stood out in the first leg and against defending Premier League champions City, is likely to be handed another chance to impress despite this week’s video nasty.
Footage has emerged of Rodgers critising the super-confident teenager during the club’s pre-season tour of the United States.
The training ground dressing-down, caught by a fly-on-the-wall documentary on the club set to be aired later this year, shows Rodgers questioning the young midfielder’s attitude after he unwisely answered back to the no-nonsense Anfield manager.
Rodgers singled Sterling out during a training debrief after the youngster interrupts his team talk — and told the player he’d be on the next plane home if he didn’t listen.
When Sterling tried to answer back, Rodgers said: “You say ’steady’ to me again when I say something to you and you’ll be on the first plane back.”
The stern talking-to seems to have worked, and speaking this week, Rodgers said: “I have seen a lot of development in Raheem in a short time. He takes on a lot of the concepts and he is very good with instructions.
“He’s a young player who has improved every single day since I came here, and his performance against Manchester City was fantastic.”
Hearts are likely to have to make changes of their own.
Lithuanian international defender Marius Zaliukas is a doubt for the visitors with a dead leg, and keeper Macdonald added: “We’ll get heavily beaten if we’re not careful but what’s the point in going there if we don’t think we can win?”
McGlynn admits his side will be up against it if they fail to claim the first goal, and the manager added: “If we lose the first goal we’ve got to score two so we need to score first. Having said that, we still need to be patient.”